Top tech priorities as we emerge from the pandemic

Many technology initiatives have been on the back burner since the pandemic hit. Enterprise digital transformation strategies have been impacted, the pipeline of vendor innovations disrupted. While the crisis is by no means over, there are some encouraging signs that a degree of normality will soon be restored. Many are wondering, at this critical juncture, what will be the big post-pandemic trends in areas like connectivity, compute and security? Here are 10 tech areas that NetReporter believes will be of critical importance over next 12 months.

 

 

Trend 1 – Security to top the list of C-level concerns

 

The past 12 months has forced a rethink of enterprise tech priorities. Amid last year’s rush to implement solutions to support remote working, it soon became clear that traditional network security strategies were no longer fit for purpose. The pandemic has been a bonanza for cybercrime, whether inflicted by small-time bad actors on a lucky streak or in the form of major state-sponsored attacks. Finding new ways to beat increased threat levels will be a higher priority than ever as we move beyond COVID.

 

Let’s consider just one example of this new threat landscape in action. A series of attacks in January on software company SolarWinds saw suspected Russian hackers manipulate the company’s Orion product, exploiting the breach to hit about 250 of the US federal agencies that use it, as well as several large corporations. The incident has been described by Microsoft President Brad Smith as ‘the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen’. When major corporations and well-protected government agencies can be ripped open and exposed in this way, it is clear that old school firewalls and VPNs are not going to be enough to protect anybody. Finding better ways to stave off attacks will be a tech trend that will extend not just through 2021 but into the indefinite future.

 

What will this new style of security look like? Expect it to be AI-led, featuring algorithms that effectively get inside the heads of cyberattackers and predict what they will do next.

 

Here’s our Top Five Picks of companies that we believe will lead in this space:

 

Carbon Black (VMware)

Crowdstrike

Fortinet

Palo Alto

Lacework

 

Here are some useful links in this area:

 

Accenture on resilience

Dell’Oro on network security

Gartner on risk management

 

 

Trend 2 – The traditional telco shows that it is not dead yet

 

We often read about how the conventional communications service provider is becoming less relevant at a time when so many connectivity options are available to the enterprise on a simple as-a-service basis. But if the last 12 months has proved one thing, the traditional telco is by no means dead yet. There is every reason to suppose that the next 12 months will reaffirm this trend.

 

A recent report from Analysys Mason shows that network operator profits were in many cases boosted by COVID-19, proving once again that there is nothing the telco sector likes better than a crisis. “Operators performed better than the broader economy in almost all cases,” it says.

 

But as we look ahead, we can conclude that the CSPs that will do best will be those that are quickest to embrace new digital opportunities. The biggest telco success stories of this year and next will be those that adopt the broadest range of digital channels. Winners will include those with the best plans to tap into such openings as the growing appetite for online entertainment. Smart telcos will already be exploring the convergence of fixed and mobile broadband, and looking at profiting from the kind of unified communications and collaboration tools that business customers are demanding. Most important of all will be how CSPs respond to the demands of the cloud era. Do they have a good plan for that? How fast can they shift from reliance on mature technologies like MPLS and adapt to the more flexible connectivity that multi-cloud and hybrid cloud demand?

 

One specific trend we expect to see is an accelerated shift toward a software-driven, cloud-centric future. Networks based on cloud-native, cloud-first, application-led principles will predominate.

 

We see the following Top Five Picks as the vendors best placed to help the telco on its transformational journey:

 

Alkira

Ciena

Cisco

Ericsson

Oracle

 

These links will furnish more information in this area:

 

Light Reading on understanding the market

IDC on the latest network developments

Plunkett on market research

 

 

Trend 3 – Enterprise connectivity will go cloud-native

 

Last year was a good time to be ‘cloud-native’, and this year will be even better. Tech vendors everywhere have been rushing to acquire cloud-native credentials. Data centres all over the world are being equipped with Kubernetes-centred solutions. Next it will be the turn of networks to fall under the cloud-native spell and start to rid themselves of the dead hand of pre-cloud legacy investments.

 

Expect a new raft of cloud-native acquisitions, along the lines of the ones that Cisco made last year by buying Portshift, a start-up with a Kubernetes-based platform for securing containers and serverless applications. It also snapped up Banzai Cloud, developer of a platform that helps enterprises develop, deploy and scale their cloud-native applications. VMware joined the party with the buyout of Kubernetes security start-up Octarine and its software that optimises visibility into cloud-native workloads.

 

No vendor wants to be caught without a stake in the cloud-native ecosystem to demonstrate its commitment to multi-cloud and the connectivity that enables it.

 

Here’s our Top Five Picks in this space:

 

Aryaka

Aviatrix

Cato Networks

NetFoundry

Snowflake

 

And here’s some useful links that offer added info:

 

ABI Research on cloud-native and 5G

Cisco on cloud-native network functions

Computer Weekly on cloud-native computing

 

 

Trend 4 – Business stays virtual, and virtual gets smarter

 

Everything went virtual in 2020, from meetings to conferences to casual collaboration between team members. As we move forward many things will stay virtual, but in new and smarter ways. It’s time for businesses to look for new ways to replicate meetings, events, and similar functions online.

 

The trend to move physical events onto the Internet was not entirely new in 2020. But what has caught up is the technology that allows it to happen so successfully. Things that nobody ever thought could happen other than face to face can now be done without any two people being in the same room. Witness for example India-based network operator Reliance JIO which closed funding rounds worth around $40 billion, all online. Now we will see further advances being made as software-based tools offer new ways for remote teams to be more productive and manage their time in better ways. Even as we start to return to board rooms and conference centres, there will be new choices for those that want to stay apart.

 

The tools to look out for are ones that allow collaboration across teams, customers and partners, giving workers access to files from any device, at any time. For example, expect tools that automate repeatable workflows to allow more time to be spent on creative endeavours.

 

Here’s our Top Five Picks for players that will make a difference here:

 

Avaya

Core

Microsoft

RingCentral

Tata Communications

 

Here’s some places to go for more detail:

 

Harvard Business Review on virtual collaboration

 

Space IQ in collaboration trends

 

Deloitte on virtual teams

 

 

 

Trend 5 – AI to spread everywhere in the data centre, network and beyond

 

There is no doubt that enterprise connectivity is getting more complex, and that conventional networks are struggling to maintain service quality levels and efficiency of operations in the face of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud deployments. The same complexity is to be found at cellular level as much as fixed as 5G networks are rolled out with their promise of high-bandwidth, ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency applications.

 

It’s not a surprise that network managers and operators are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and policy-driven automation. AI-led data intelligence enables them to drive efficiencies throughout network planning, operations and service delivery. From now on we will see AI being used not just to bring about more frictionless operations but to create better customer experiences and smoother links across organisations and between partners. Some will be beginning their AI journeys this year, others will be continuing a process they have already embarked on. Either way, there is a long future ahead for AI in the network.

 

Here’s our Top Five Picks for leaders in AI and networks:

 

Extreme Networks

Cisco

NVIDIA

Juniper Networks

Pega

 

See these links for major AI networking trends:

 

Omdia on AI at the edge

 

CRN on AI trends to watch

 

CXO on the future of AI

 

 

Trend 6 – The pace of cloud migration speeds, and everything else catches up

 

Surely there can’t be many enterprises still at the stage of evaluating cloud and considering it from an architecture standpoint? If anybody is still wondering, then now is the time for deploying. There will be those that have delayed on a full commitment to cloud-centred digital transformation, held back by worries that their infrastructure won’t cope. This is the time for everyone to extend cloud to all application areas, knowing that technology now exists that can make this work reliably and securely. Enterprises can keep some of the benefits of on-prem compute while reducing reliance on the baggage that is holding them up. There are a lot of new and disruptive vendors out there, dedicated to helping organizations achieve their business and technology goals. This year will be about solutions that offer the simplicity and automation that enterprises expect from cloud, while also supporting network requirements like operational visibility, advanced networking and security control and multi-cloud readiness. Related to this trend are changes in the data centre where automation is gathering pace to meet tomorrow’s cloud needs.

 

Here’s our Top Five Picks for people that will make a difference here:

 

Alkira

Apstra (Juniper Networks)

Aryaka

HashiCorp

Zscaler

 

And the following links will shed further light:

 

Forbes on cloud trends

 

Futuriom on multi-cloud

 

Accenture on migration

 

 

Trend 7 – 5G gathers pace and defines the network edge

 

At the very start of 2020, it looked like it would be the year when 5G took over the world. It didn’t quite work out that way. In fact its potential is still being explored even as wider coverage is now a reality, at least in developed nations. This is going to be the year when 5G finally delivers in terms of performance and capabilities in ways that put 4G in the shade where it belongs. It will be the year when 5G moves out of people’s imaginations and into new use cases in the real world. Everyone is talking about edge compute and this could be 5G’s defining use case.

 

We all read about the so-called fourth industrial revolution in 2019, and instead we got mixed messages and half fulfilled promises. Now 5G looks set to finally provide the missing ingredient for innovation in areas like AI, ML, VR, AR and IoT. 5G can’t afford another year of underachievement.

 

Look at our Top Five Picks for companies that will make a difference:

 

Ericsson

HPE

Qualcomm

Skyworks

VMware

 

Here’s some informative and cool links:

 

Motley Fool on 5G investment

Futuriom on 5G networking

IDC on 5G forecast

 

 

Trend 8 – Blockchain bounces back

 

If 2020 was the year when 5G was supposed to come up with the goods, many thought it might be the year when blockchain moved off the agenda having failed to live up to early promise. This was not quite how things worked out. In fact blockchain-led solutions flourished throughout the year as many vertical sectors turned to it to enhance their business processes. This year we can probably expect a renewed commitment to digital transformation and with it even greater use of blockchain and distributed ledger technology. There is every chance that new blockchain use cases will emerge over the next 12 months that currently don’t exist in any tangible form.

 

Here’s our Top Five Picks for blockchain innovators:

 

Alibaba Group

Bloq

Fujitsu

IBM

Mastercard

 

These links will aid research in this area:

 

Forbes on blockchain leaders

 

Motley Fool on blockchain picks

 

Deloitte on future of blockchain

 

 

Trend 9 – Everything in the network goes software-defined and super secure

 

It has been well documented how SD-WAN was one of the big connectivity success stories of 2020. It’s also fair to say that secure access service edge (SASE) was on only a handful of wish lists as the year started, but was everybody’s darling by the end of it. We now have vendors everywhere acquiring in order to add SASE to their network portfolio, some coming from a background in security, other more WAN focussed. We’re seeing network operators move in a SASE direction too, for example Colt which now offers SASE as part of its SD-WAN 2.0 managed service. There is every prospect that SASE will end 2021 in triumph as it truly moves into the mainstream. We can look forward to SD-WAN deployment accelerating too as enterprises look to empower office workers as they continue to be remote workers.

 

We can expect existing SD-WAN players to pivot and expand their current offering to allow them to remain relevant for the long term. The risk is that if they don’t do this then new cloud players will eat their lunch.

 

Here’s our Top Five Picks for secure software defined connectivity

:

 

Aruba

Cloudflare

NetFoundry

VMware

Zscaler

 

Here’s some SASE links:

 

Dell’Oro on SASE

Fortinet on the secure edge

CheckPoint on secure WAN models

 

 

 

Trend 10 – Edge compute comes of age

 

The last 12 months have seen the centre of gravity of the compute world start to shift away from the monolithic world of the large data centre and take up residence pretty much anywhere and everywhere. This trend towards edge compute will intensify and consolidate in 2021 as enterprises rush to adopt solutions that make it a reality.

Major cloud platforms will carry on deploying edge servers in local markets and CSPs will push on with the 5G deployments that tie it all together. COVID-19’s long tail will serve to accelerate these edge-driven investments, and business models will keep evolving over the next few years to embrace more and more activity at the edge.

Here’s our Top Five Picks in edge compute:

 

Dell

HPE

Itential

Equinix

Arrcus

 

And here’s three useful links:

Grand View on edge market

Futuriom on edge for IoT

Digi on edge as a game changer

 

 

By Guy Matthews, NetReporter Editor

 

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